Monday, September 12, 2011


The first time I asked a hotel clerk about the disaster plan should there be an emergency, I almost precipitated one. Joe was simply not in the mood for one of my 'disability awareness moments'. But knowing that he was impatient to get in the room, I stayed the course anyway, reminding myself to remind him about my new resolve to check out about safety when we are staying in accessible rooms that aren't on the ground floor. Anyways, the clerk blinked at me a couple of times and said, 'Pardon?' I asked again, sweetly, 'What plans has the hotel made for guests with disabilities should their ever be a disaster or an emergency?' On second hearing the question seemed to make sense to her, 'Oh, yeah, right,' she said, 'we all gather in the parking lot behind the hotel.'

'OK,' I said, 'but I'm on the second floor, the elevators are typically down during a fire or other disaster, what do I do? Is there a gathering place on my floor for guests with disabilities.' My question went back to being incomprehensible. She tried again, 'We all gather in the parking lot behind the hotel.' This answer, was THE answer and it was supposed to work. It didn't. I said again, 'But, as you can see, I am in a wheelchair, what plans are made for those of us who can't get to the parking lot behind the hotel.' She continued bravely, 'There should be no problem, the parking lot is accessible.' I said, calmly still, 'It's not accessible from the second floor, it's only accessible from this floor and my room isn't on this floor.' 'We don't have rooms on this floor,' she said exasperated, 'you have to go to the parking lot.' She saw I was about to say something more and she gave up, 'Just a second let me get the manager.'

The manager came, and as is often the case, she was barely out of her teens. The lives of thousands of travellers rests on the shoulders of boys who are learning to shave or girls who's breasts are still in training. Anyways, the manager came and explained that the hotel had a list of all the accessible rooms and in a crisis they would come and carry me down to the main floor. Now my wheelchair weighs more than the manager and clerk combined. I wasn't reassured. 'So, in effect, in a crisis, you and the clerk would rush into a fire and carry me down the stairs?' She had the grace to say, 'It doesn't seem like much of a plan, does it?' I said, 'No, I'm not reassured.' We talked a few seconds more and she said she'd raise the issue with the company. I went to my room, put on an episode of QI on YouTube to happy Joe up and the evening continued.

A couple of nights later we are checking into a really nice, really huge hotel, where we were staying on the twentieth floor. Joe had gone to get the luggage and I asked, nicely, about the disaster plan. The clerk, a very efficient looking woman, said, 'I've never been asked that question before. I don't know the answer, may I find out and call you in your room.' I thanked her. She called and told me that I was to gather with other guests who need assistance in the east stairwell and wait for assistance. In effect, I was to '9/11 it'.

Joe and I tried to figure out what our disaster plan would be, from the twentieth floor. I figure the best chance we had was to pray hard and sleep light.


Andrea S. said...

This reminds me that I probably should do better in advocating for myself when emergency alert systems are not adequately inclusive of my needs as a deaf person. For example, in my current apartment building, I did advocate with the building people to install a strobe light alarm in my apartment -- two of them, in strategic locations that my partner and I had very carefully chosen and described to them to ensure that I could see at least one of the lights from almost any location in the apartment and thus know when the building was being evacuated. But they ignored both locations and chose one of the worst possible locations they could have chosen -- in the hallway to the bedroom, a location that cannot be seen from the bedroom itself or the bathroom or the kitchen or the desk in the living room where I actually spend most of my time. I made one or two attempts after I moved in to get this fixed but they didn't do anything. And here's the kicker--this poorly located light doesn't even actually flash when the evacuation alarm is going off!! I suppose I should push harder to get it fixed.

And at every hotel I've ever stayed at. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires hotels to have a "deaf kit"--a kit of equipment that they can install in a room to accommodate the needs of deaf guests. And they do. The trouble is there is this unified piece of equipment that is SUPPOSED to have a light flash for every sound you NEED it to flash for (alarm clock, fire alarm, door knocker) ... but when it works at all, what ACTUALLY happens is that the light will flash for EVERY SINGLE SOUND YOU MAKE IN THE ROOM (eg, a cough, or dropping something on the floor, or setting your watch down on the table) ... every sound, that is, EXCEPT the sounds that the equipment is meant to actually signal to you! So it will miss the knock at the door and will be utterly, completely, entirely impossible to set as an alarm clock (or at least, impossible by any means comprehensible to me). So usually what I end up doing is unplugging the equipment entirely and do without. I have completely given up on any hotel room having an alarm clock that is not only TECHNICALLY accessible but one that I can actually understand how to operate without disrupting the settings with all the other equipment integrated into it. I now bring my own portable vibrating alarm clock with me on all travels, hotel or no. When it's an alarm clock or a door knocker, it's merely a nuisance (the alarm to bring myself, the knocker to do without, meaning I have no way to know if someone is knocking at the door to get my attention--for example, a roommate I've accidentally locked out!)

But the thing is, the fire evacuation alarm is generally ALSO not connected any more properly than any of the rest of it, which means I never have any way to know if there is a fire at any hotel. But when I arrive at a hotel, I am usually so tired and in a hurry to just get into bed and do not want to have to raise a fuss to get my equipment set up properly ESPECIALLY when there probably isn't anyone on duty at that moment who actually understands the equipment any better than I do, which means that raising a fuss would produce precisely zero results at that particular moment, or for my entire stay. (The kind of equipment they use in hotels is ENTIRELY different from the kind of equipment most deaf people have in our own homes, which limits my ability to extrapolate, or else I'd fix things myself.)

I admire your fortitude in pushing and pushing on this ... I know that each time I fail to speak up about equipment that simply isn't connected properly I'm creating a situation where the people at the hotel are left to assume everything went smoothly, and thus are going to recreate the same problem for the next deaf person and the next ... How do you find the energy to push on like this?

Andrea S. said...

Incidentally, I made a blog post yesterday in which I linked to the post you made yesterday. I also link to an article on-line where people can learn more about the situation that people with disabilities face in disaster situations--and the way that lessons learned in one disaster repeatedly fail to be carried over to the next. And fail. And fail.

You can read that post at the link, entitled: The Forgotten Victims of September 11--People with disabilities

There are also some resources and information on disability in disaster situations in the on-line Global Disability Rights Library at (Particularly try the global disability rights library portal in the emergency preparedness section. There may also be some relevant resources in the "Basic Disability Info" portal)

Belinda said...

Yikes! The challenge is out there--the gauntlet is down. I'm praying the hotel industry catches the wind and rises to the occasion. (Okay that's enough cliches for one day! :))

I will be laughing about "breasts in training" all day. Why DO we call them "training bras?" :)

Anonymous said...

My brother is a fire trainer, that is, he trains staff in what to do when there's a fire at work.
I'm gonna forward him these posts and ask him whether he discusses these issues when he runs training.

Walrilla said...

Wow. I've never thought about that, but after reading your adventures, it seems like the prevailing plan, for us disabled, is to BOAKYAG(Bend Over And Kiss... well, I think you can figure out the rest of it.)


Thank you, Dave, for all you do, and for just being you!